Belfast Telegraph

'Dad was heading to the hospital to visit mum who was giving birth for the first time and there was a letter bomb from the IRA waiting for him'

By Claire McNeilly

The most probing interviews: Paul Givan, Lagan Valley DUP MLA on Ian Paisley's influence, bonfire controversies, his religious faith and being trolled on social media.

Q. You're 36 and married to Emma (36), a dietitian, with whom you have three children - Annie (10), Hollie (8) and Maisie (5). Tell us how you met.

A. We first met when we were 16. When we started dating - at 17 - Mum recognised Emma's face and tracked down a photograph of the two of us in the same nursery school class when we were three years old. We got married when we were 23. I proposed outside Buckingham Palace, which was memorable for the Chinese tourists taking photographs of me getting down on bended knee. We got married in Lisburn Free Presbyterian Church on December 29, 2004, followed by a reception at the Culloden. I'm sure the food was very enjoyable but I had a stomach bug and wasn't able to eat anything. My uncle, a doctor, gave me an injection to stop me vomiting. We honeymooned in Aruba and Florida.

Q. What's it like in an all-female household?

A. Plenty of pink and dolls to play with. Annie said it would be awful if we had a boy because I'd have to go and do boy things at the weekend. I'm not saying we've taken early retirement from having children but I'm happy with three and so is Emma.

Q. Your father Alan (62) is a retired prison officer at the Maze/Maghaberry and mother Elizabeth (60) is a secretary. Are you a mummy's or daddy's boy?

A. Neither really. Mum likes to keep a track of what I'm doing and saying, and dad is into politics as well; he's a DUP councillor in Lisburn. My grandfather Herbie, and his brothers Wallace and Cecil, were foundational DUP members.

Q. You have two brothers - Mark (38), who works in the construction industry, Philip (34), an engineer - and two sisters - Ruth (30), a church youth worker in Manchester, and teacher Jessica (25). Obviously your dad's job was dangerous; was the family affected by any incidents?

A. When my mum went into labour with her first child, Dad got a call. He had to go home to change out of his uniform before heading to the hospital - and there was a hoax IRA letter bomb waiting for him. He'd just started working at the Maze. He was aware that they knew where he lived. On the same day a colleague of his in another part of Lisburn got a real letter bomb and suffered significant facial injuries. No security measures were put in then; there wasn't even a follow-up from the police because at that time, in the '70s, there were fatalities every day.

Q. You grew up and still live in Lisburn. A happy childhood?

A. Very happy. I can never recall Mum or Dad ever having a row. I'm very grateful that I had a very stable home life. If I can provide my kids with the kind of family life my parents provided for me they'll do very well.

Q. You joined Lisburn City Council in 2005 when you were 23 and became an MLA in 2010. You're a former Minister of Communities. Why politics?

A. When I was 16 I heard Ian Paisley speak at a rally in Kilkeel as part of the 1998 Referendum campaign. Dad felt the proposed release of prisoners was wrong and could never reconcile himself to multiple mass murderers being freed having only served a negligible amount of time in prison. That was a price too big to pay. Dr Paisley emotionally captured me into the party through his speech, and Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds intellectually captured me.

Q. Your DUP colleague Jim Wells last week launched an attack on the party leadership. Could you ever see yourself in that situation?

A. There is a sadness amongst a number of the party. That's something that will need to be dealt with internally. I take the view that I have a forum to express opinions within the party internally.

Q. Do you feel sorry for him on a human level?

A. Jim's a friend. He has had trials and difficulties in his life, some that I would not want to have to go through. Those are very difficult burdens for anyone to bear and so there is clearly a sense of sympathy and understanding in respect of that.

Q. Would you hate to lose him from the party?

A. Yes. Jim is a very articulate and capable individual. He's been a very effective political representative.

Q. You were investigated for lighting a bonfire when you were Minister for Communities. Was that a mistake? Do you regret it?

A. No. It wasn't a mistake. That community - Roughan Orange Hall in South Tyrone - was heralded last summer as being an example of how the loyalist Protestant culture should be celebrated. I was there that night to do the official opening of their 3G pitch. That was a small bonfire. It didn't have any effigies, tricolours or election posters on it. In my view that's how it should be celebrated. To me, we can be rightly proud of our cultural heritage and should celebrate that in its own right; we don't need to denigrate another people's identity to celebrate our own.

Q. Months before that, you scrapped the £55,000 funding for the Liofa scheme. The late Martin McGuinness cited that as one of his reasons for resigning as Deputy First Minister. Wasn't it actually you who brought down Stormont?

A. There's no way that's the case. There were much bigger reasons why Sinn Fein tried to bring down Stormont.

Q. In February 2015, you proposed a Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill, after controversy and legal action arose when Ashers refused to bake a cake in support of same-sex marriage. Stephen Fry said that it was "sick" and that "once again the religious right twist truth to present themselves as victims". How did you feel about that?

A. I don't really take a lot of notice of Stephen Fry, nor do I regard the man as a credible individual whose criticism would be worthy of any concern.

Q. Have you been trolled on social media?

A. Extensively. Someone told me they'd love to see me dead with my genitals cut off and rammed down my throat in reaction to my views on marriage.

Q. You visited Lower Shankill Community Association offices a day after a BBC investigation claimed it was used as an unofficial HQ of the UDA. Was that an error of judgement?

A. No, because as Communities Minister I was visiting huge numbers of community-based organisations across Northern Ireland.

Q. Did you know that it was a UDA HQ before you went?

A. No I didn't.

Q. What's the most important piece of advice someone has ever given you?

A. Keep going. Don't look too far ahead in the future. Appreciate the day that you have, give all that you have in that day because you don't know what tomorrow can bring.

Q. Do you have a strong faith?

A. My faith determines my values; it's intrinsic to who I am. I am a Christian, first and foremost, a husband, a father, a unionist.

Q. Have you ever lost anyone else close to you and does death frighten you?

A. Death doesn't frighten me at all because I've put my trust in the Lord. My grandfather Herbie passing, aged 76, was probably a defining moment that influenced me. He was a farmer who enjoyed an Ulster fry for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I think that caught up with him. I was 15 when he died. Apart from that, I remember the passing of a council colleague Stephen Moore. He was only 34, and he left four young girls. I helped carry his coffin and it really brought home the brevity of life.

Q. You like walking in the Mournes and North Coast and you also surf. Is that how you relax outside politics?

A. I go to the gym a couple of times a week. There's a camp that I've helped out in the Mournes for the last number of summers, working with young people. I thoroughly enjoy that.

Q. Which politician from another party do you most admire?

A. Nichola Mallon of the SDLP.

Q. Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?

A. Dr Paisley.

Q. Who is your best Catholic friend?

A. I've numerous Catholic friends; it mightn't be fair if I named someone.

Q. Tell us about the best day of your life so far.

A. The first time I held my daughter Annie in my arms.

Q. And what about the worst day?

A. There have been trials and challenges but nothing that has left me traumatised.

Q. What's your favourite place in the whole world?

A. Southern Spain.

Q. What's your favourite place in Northern Ireland?

A. Tollymore Forest Park.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?

A. A lady didn't have enough money to bury her husband. She'd been turned down for a £2,500 grant twice but I took it to the minister and got her the grant.

Q. Do you have or have you ever had a nickname?

A. Before we got married my father-in-law used to sing to me 'Polly put the kettle on, we'll all have tea'.

Q. What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

A. Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Q. Tell us something that readers might be surprised to learn about you?

A. I sing Christian hymns to my children at night.

Q. You went to Pond Park Primary, then Laurelhill Community College followed by Lisburn Institute, where you did an HND in Business and Marketing. You then did a business studies degree at the University of Ulster and an advanced diploma in management practice. Give us a brief summary of your career.

A. I had part-time jobs at a petrol station when I was 16 and collected trolleys at a supermarket. I started working as a part-time assistant for Edwin Poots while I was still studying and went full time in 2003. I worked as his special adviser when he was DCAL minister between 2007-8 and then again between 2009-10 when he was DoE minister. In the break between serving as a Spad I was public affairs manager for the Federation of Small Businesses.

Q. Will the Assembly ever get back up and running?

A. I hope that it will. But I couldn't say with absolute confidence that it's going to be restored by the end of this year.

Q. Can Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill come to an arrangement?

A. I believe they can, but it has to go beyond leadership. There have to be collective decisions taken by political parties. Sinn Fein as a party took a decision to bring down the Executive. For our part, we remain committed to power sharing.

Q. Was bringing down the Assembly something that backfired?

A. Big time, because Sinn Fein hadn't foreseen an election that gave the DUP 10 MPs and significant influence at Westminster.

Q. If the Assembly collapses, what's next for you?

A. I would pray about what I ought to do.

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